Hospitality education is undergoing a transformation as COVID-19 required a blend of contactless technologies with personalized service. In an interview, Dilip Puri, founder and CEO of the Indian School of Hospitality (ISH) and former managing director of Starwood Hotels & Resorts South Asia, said the impact of COVID-19 on the industry was diminishing. Extracts:
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality education sector?
He was clearly impacted. Two groups of students – the 2020 and 2021 promotions – have been strongly impacted from the point of view of employment in the hospitality sector. I want to focus on hotel hospitality because even before COVID, fewer hospitality students were looking to join the traditional hospitality industry.
Over the past 8-10 years, other industries such as luxury retail, luxury real estate, fast food and catering have grown and many of these industries are hiring students from hospitality schools. Therefore, the impact of the hospitality industry not hiring for two years has been challenged by the fact that there are many other sectors that are thriving.
Several new companies have emerged in the field of e-commerce and they are constantly on the lookout for talent in the hospitality industry. So the impact is there for people who want to join the traditional hospitality industry.
The impact on the hospitality industry is not going to last long. It may be slower to recover, but when the recovery occurs it will be like a real hockey stick. Whatever recovery you have seen in India in the hospitality industry, it is largely due to domestic leisure travel which is going to expand.
In many ways, this pandemic gives a huge boost to the development of leisure products, which is very good for the domestic market in the long run.
How has COVID-19 been learned?
In fact, we found that going online worked very well because we were forced to review our content, our curricula. One was the validity of this program given that in a COVID environment a lot will change. Employers will operate a hotel with half the number of people they had before the pandemic. This means that one person will do the work of two people. This means that one person must be much smarter than the two people in the past. This person must be versatile, versatile, [have] ability to work in a virtual environment, ability to provide personalized services to clients but without being in contact with them.
Second, in many ways the pandemic has forced us to adopt technology faster and digitize our content where it becomes more learner friendly, and you are able to make it much more efficient in delivering it to students. This online digital mix of education will remain post-pandemic.
Most universities, colleges and even schools will mix up almost 50% of the programs and learning which can be easily delivered digitally and on the online medium.
What about the admission of students during the pandemic?
Our typical dropout rates were higher in 2020 than they were in 2019 and 2018, meaning that students wanted to study, but as the pandemic continued, either for financial reasons or for fear of the COVID, they gave up.
Several factors impacted us last year, but this year has not shown the same trend. Now there is greater optimism.
Our new students will be joining in September, and we have a higher intake than last year. So, we are clearly growing, and we are seeing this trend that a recovery is occurring despite any possibility of a [COVID] third wave maybe.
A lot of people have lost their jobs. What is the level of requalification?
Yes, there is a significant amount of recycling happening. Our graduate programs are designed to improve, hone and acquire new skills. So it’s designed in a certain way, you spend six months on campus, five months on an internship with the employer and that same employer after that internship offers you a permanent job. These students will be far ahead of their peers who have not had the opportunity to improve their skills but have continued to work.
Imagine what a contradiction it is to say that a hotel offers you a very personalized but contactless service and you suddenly think that how to merge contactless technology with personalization? Now that’s a whole new way of thinking: how are you going to interact with the guest?
The global service industry is recruiting professionals in India. Has COVID changed that?
The Middle East is a very popular place for careers. Nearly 30% of the overall hotel employee base in the Middle East would ideally be Indian. As this pandemic subsides, more Indians will be heading there. There is no significant change in the number of people going pre-pandemic or post-pandemic. Indian students, especially chefs, do very well internationally. They are considered among skilled workers in Australia, Canada and Europe. The international mobility of Indian hospitality students will only increase and the pandemic will have no material impact.
What’s the new trend?
The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) is very visionary. It proposes to allow international universities to come to India and award a degree there in collaboration with an Indian institution. Thanks to this, more educational institutions in India will have access to high quality education from these global academic brands. Now, students can do two years in India and two years abroad, they can integrate masters by doing five years at once rather than six years.
What’s your scaling plan?
India is a very large market and education can be seen as a recession-proof business like health care.
The demand for high quality global higher education is very strong and will grow more and more. We will forge many other alliances and will build, in the next two or three years, a second campus either in the west or in the south of India.
We believe that the world of food and cooking is one of the big persistent trends. Beyond cooking and being a chef, food photography, food blogs, food technology and food entrepreneurship are emerging fields today. We will build high standard facilities providing facilities across India in a few years.